Thousands of Indian farmers, spanning more than 40 unions, have camped out in Delhi since November 26th, 2020, to protest. But it is not just the number of farmers that makes the protests so large and notable. According to Devinder Sharma, a trade and food policy analyst, “This protest is unique. It is not driven by politics or religion. In fact, politicians are reacting to it.” Back in September, in protest against the laws, a key ally of the government had already quit. Moreover, the farmers have been there since late November and have built almost a town, with many saying that they have enough resources to remain in place for another year.
The farmers are protesting three market-friendly reform bills that Prime Minister Narendra Modi rushed through parliament last autumn. They deregulate the farming market and let farmers sell directly to consumers rather than through markets known as mandis. And to top it all off, the Prime Minister’s lack of consultation and the rushed process have only deepened the fears and objections of the farmers.
But despite such protests, most agronomists and economists are stating that agriculture reform is desperately needed in India. The farmers have many different complaints, but the main fear seems to be about the removal of price floors which are supposed to help farmers survive droughts, blights, and other setbacks. However, the price floors have distorted rice and wheat markets everywhere. The new bills were not clear on what would be the future of the price floors.
Fortunately, Prime Minister Modi has since relented—a rare occurrence in his increasingly authoritarian government—and suspended the reforms. But the farmers seemed to be emboldened by this more than anything and are demanding the complete withdrawal of the bills.
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